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Is Thailand’s Tourism Too Dependent on China?

Asia’s most visited cities, such as Bangkok and Singapore, are also more vulnerable to declines in arrivals and tourism revenues because of their growing dependence on Chinese tourists.

Boris Sullivan

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Asia’s most visited cities, such as Bangkok and Singapore, are also more vulnerable to declines in arrivals and tourism revenues because of their growing dependence on Chinese tourists.

Asia was home to 70% of the fastest-growing cities by visitor arrivals last year, the annual MasterCard Global Destinations Index released last week shows, ranking the world’s 132 most popular cities by international visitor numbers and spending.

But the bulk of that growth was due to outbound travel from China, putting those Asian destinations at risk should Chinese tourists stay away as economic growth moderates further. Last year, more than 13% of visitors to Asia-Pacific destinations were from China, the highest proportion among all foreign travellers and more than double the figure of just under 6% recorded five years ago.

MasterCard chief economist Yuwa Hedrick-Wong told Reuters that the high dependency of Asian cities on Chinese tourists was unhealthy.

“As a source of tourists, China looms large and a lot of Asian cities have benefited hugely. But they have grown to be very dependent on these tourists, and one must be cautious not to go down one path too far. You must diversify,” he said.

The report itself ends by noting that the challenge for otherwise very successful destination cities is “to diversify their sources of visitors while maintaining their robust rates of growth.”

The Chinese now account for one in every five tourists to the kingdom, according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand. By comparison, Chinese tourists accounted for just 0.6% of all arrivals in London last year, according to the MasterCard data.

China’s dominant role in Asia’s tourism industry is largely a product of structural factors such as Beijing’s large population and its proximity to other Asian nations.

Visiting neighboring Asian countries is a cheaper and thus more accessible option for a greater portion of the Chinese population than more expensive trips to faraway European and Middle Eastern capitals.

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